VICTORIA Ã¢â‚¬â€ Victoria’s newest world champion was a virtual unknown a few months ago.
But in Greece last November, Jason Cao shocked a string of highly touted opponents from countries including Spain, the United States, Italy and Belarus at the World Youth Chess Championships to emerge as the best under-10 chess player on the planet.
Despite being ranked 89th out of 156 in his age group, the Canadian upstart earned nine of 11 possible points on his way to the title with eight wins, two draws and just one defeat.
Last month, he was named the 2010 Canadian Chess Player of the Year. Jason has also received a $1,000 award from the Chess’n Math Association Ã¢â‚¬â€ a national group that promotes chess and academics.
Jason’s proud father, Yunxu Cao, said his son is a very confident boy, but he went into the world championship with no real expectations. Although Jason had done well locally, the world stage was a big unknown, Yunxu said.
“We were really encouraged by other people to send him to Greece because initially we didn’t want to go. We didn’t know how good he was.”
So the family set out Ã¢â‚¬â€ Jason, his father and his mother, Huicui Yao Ã¢â‚¬â€ and the rest is Canadian chess history. Jason emerged as the first Canadian to win an international chess title since siblings Jeff and Julie Sarwer both accomplished the feat in 1986.
During the world event, someone on a discussion board at chesstalk.com took to calling the Victoria chess whiz “The Crusher” for his impressive performance. But Yunxu said it was all about the experience and having fun for his son.
“We could feel the pressure on the other kids. Jason was really relaxed all the time,” Yunxu said.
The win made the Grade 5 student a celebrity at Campus View Elementary. He appeared in the school’s November newsletter, featured in the principal’s message along with Greg Churchill, the teacher who helped Jason discover the game at a chess camp a few summers ago.
On Jason’s first day back to class after returning from Greece, one of his friends acted as a lookout at the school so everyone would know when he was coming.
Jason, who turned 10 a few weeks after the world championship, said he began playing chess when he was eight.
“It was kind of fun at that time,” he said. “I could play with my friends.”
A week at Churchill’s chess camp set him on his way. “I somehow won my first five games against people,” Jason said.
Chess is just part of the package for Jason. “I like soccer, basketball and playing with my friends,” he said, adding that tag is a favourite pastime for him and his buddies. He practised chess a lot in the weeks before Greece, up to five hours a day playing games and solving chess puzzles on the computer.
“Before the tournament, I also used to go to the Victoria Chess Club Monday nights downtown.”
It was exciting to win a title against so many good players, he said. “I was really happy.”
As for mom and dad, Huicui does not even know how to set up the board and Yunxu said he is no match for his son, who taught him to play.
“When he had just started, we played a few games but I always made blunders and lost badly,” Yunxu said with a smile.
Next up for Jason is Victoria’s Grand Pacific Open in April, followed by the Canadian Open in Toronto in July. Jason has also been invited to a tournament in Dubai, but Yunxu doesn’t think the family will go.
“We prefer to stay local and Canadian,” he said.